(update 30 November 2018)
Piemonte (and Langhe) isn’t a city but rather a region of northern Italy. Arguably, it is one of the most elegant regions of Italy that also acts as a collective municipality overseeing the Barolo and Barbaresco wines. My heart has always been drawn to Venice and Rome but the tranquility of the Piemonte region could very well become my third home!
I may have stumbled upon the most amazing, and charming, and inviting hotel in the Langhe region that I am honestly afraid to share because I don’t want to be turned away: the Locanda Marchesi Alfieri (http://www.marchesialfieri.it/eng/). I am literally in love with this hotel. I didn’t want to leave and when I moved to another hotel that I wasn’t happy with, all I could say was that I wanted to return to the Marchesi Alfieri. I will return every year if I can, and have already started planning my 2019 visit!
I read an article about the Hotel Castello di Sinio (http://www.hotelcastellodisinio.com/en/) and so I had to check it out. Located in the tiny village of Sinio, this converted castle is a real gem. Denise, the owner, is a hoot and full of information and advice. And the staff, they are a collective dream and literally made every return, and every departing adventure, a real joy. You don’t stay here if you’re looking for cookie cutter hotels, but you stay here for peace and relaxation. (And, I suspect, the pool in the summer could be a wonderful afternoon reprieve, but I’ll have to report on that at another time.)
In the small village of La Morra – and a short walk from what is arguably the best restaurant in Piemonte: Il Bovio – lies the lovely little Corte Gondina Hotel. There aren’t a lot or rooms but the rooms they have, are great: some are large with only a minimal view while others are a bit smaller with a balcony where you can see rows and rows of vineyards. And not to be missed is the morning breakfast with wonderful pastries and divine cappuccini.
If I only had one night in the Piemonte region, I would go to Trattoria La Coccinella (http://www.trattoriacoccinella.com/). I literally fell in love with this restaurant: the décor so charming and real, the waiters outstanding and in no way intrusive, and the food absolutely divine! Of course, I was here during white truffle season (tartuffo bianco) but even so, I know that the food here year-round will make everyone content. (And, for what it’s worth, I was only the second of 2 tables where I heard English.)
De Felicin (http://www.felicin.it/en/) is, without a doubt, my second favourite restaurant in the Piemonte region and I would insist that you spend two nights in this part of Italy, just to enjoy. The owner and chef, Nino, is amazing and so incredibly knowledgeable for all diners. On my visit, he suggested that he make various antipasti and, if we were still hungry, to order a pasta dish. We weren’t still hungry! The antipasti were each unique, tasty, and not too big which can be a welcomed respite from the sometimes heavy pasta that you can find in the Piemonte region. And not to be missed is the wine cellar: what a site for both the wine aficionado and the newbie! Put this one on your list!
If you have a third night, you really can’t skip Bovio Ristorante (http://www.ristorantebovio.it/ita/) which has a bit of history behind it. The short story is that it’s sister restaurant, now closed, was even higher up the hill in La Morra but the views are just as stunning and the wine cellar is rumoured to have over 1 million euro worth of wine. As for the food, it was delicious and the staff really very helpful and the views incredible! So why is this not at the top of my list? Simply because, the food and the interior were just a bit too stuffy, and a bit too showy, and anything where I find the people to be to try too hard, I find it unsettling and not the most enjoyable experience.
One comes to the Piemonte region to see the wines, to taste the wines, and to hear about the wines. The latter, you say, is an odd thing to hear but I tell you, the stories that the vintners will tell you are mesmerizing and charming and will make the drive on these lovely curvy roads worth the endeavor.
With no disrespect to the large wineries that you will find in this valley of two wines, I would avoid them and seek out the smaller producers. Personally, I can recommend the following but if you know of others, or just want to rely on your hotel, check them out:
Cavallotto Tenuta (Barolo)
GD Vajra (Barolo)
La Spinetta (Barbaresco) – my favourite
Cantina Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace (Barbaresco)
Azienda Agricola Sottimano (Barbaresco)
and new to the list – only because I can only visit so many wineries and taste so much wine:
Contratto (sparkling wine in a STUNNING winery, not to be missed!)
But a word of advice: a GPS system for your car is imperative. Yes, it will nearly double the price of your rental car but some of these wineries are difficult to find and one of the wineries was surprised that I found them, on time, and when I told them about the GPS, they said that it must have been a great system as most people get lost.
And to note: most of the wineries have begun charging for their tasting. The fact that they didn’t charge for so many years is one of the things that I found charming. But I understand, and given the tourism trade, it makes perfect sense so be prepared to pay between 10 and 25 euro for your tastings.
So, the next time you come to Milano, go past Torino and head to Piemonte and unwind and check out from the daily craziness of internet and texts and get back to life and to the living of life.